German shepherds are one of the world’s most popular and recognizable breeds. Yet, even though there are millions of shepherd lovers the world over, few actually know how the breed originated. That’s unfortunate because the history of the German shepherd breed is endlessly fascinating.
Here are a few fascinating German shepherd facts: The earliest “German shepherd” was introduced in just 1899 – in other words, the breed is relatively new, just over 100 years old. Also, the breed has working dog roots. Many don’t know that they were originally bred to herd and protect sheep, hence the shepherd moniker.
But that’s just a brief look at what makes this breed’s history so fascinating; from its earliest origins to its rapid rise in popularity, the German Shepherd continues to be one of the world’s most beloved dog breeds.
Early German Shepherd History
The breed’s history begins in – you guessed it – Germany. From the 1850s to the 1890s, many German dog breeders were attempting to standardize working dog lineages. In particular, efforts were made to preserve traits ideal for farm work, including herding and protecting flocks from predators.
One such breeding group, the Phylax Society, was formed in 1891 to standardize all breeds. Although the group lasted just three years, one former member, Max von Stephanitz, would continue the work independently and ultimately standardize the German shepherd breed.
The story goes: von Stephanitz attended a dog show in 1899, at which he saw a dog named Hektor Linksrhein. The dog had been bred as a working dog through selective breeding, and Hektor perfectly matched Von Stephanitz’ vision for a working dog. He purchased Hektor, changed his name to Horand von Grafrath, and founded the Society for the German Shepherd Dog. In fact, the breed’s origin can be traced back to Horand, who was named the world’s first German shepherd dog, or GSD.
Von Stephanitz bred Horand, and produced a pup named Hektor von Schwaben. An offspring of Hektor named Beowulf produced 84 pups, and today, 100+ years later, modern German shepherds are genetically linked with Beowulf’s pups.
The German Shepherd’s Rising Popularity
Following Von Stephanitz successful introduction, the German shepherd quickly gained popularity around Europe, the UK, and the U.S. In fact, the American Kennel Club officially recognized the breed beginning in 1908, and the UK Kennel Club followed suit in 1919.
In just a decade, the UK Kennel Club experienced an unprecedented growth in the breed’s popularity. Fifty-four shepherds were registered in 1919; less than 10 years later in 1926, that number had skyrocketed to 8,000+ registrations. Today, the German Shepherd Dog is currently the second most popular AKC breed.
Initially, Von Stephanitz standardized the breed as a working dog. Yet in the ensuing years, the breed has become prized for its iconic appearance. The most recognizable appearance is that of the tan GSD with a black saddle and mask, yet as many as 11 variations exist. Solid black German shepherds and white German shepherds, for instance, have become increasingly popular over the years.
Additionally, the GSD breed has kept its iconic muscular stance. Male purebred German shepherds stand at about 24-26 inches in height and weigh 75-95 pounds. Adult purebred females, on the other hand, stand 22-24 inches in height and weigh 55-73 pounds.
The History of the German Shepherd’s Temperament
Many original traits of the breed that drew Von Stephanitz’ interest carry on to this day. For example, the GSD is world-known for its intelligence and its working class origins. That’s why German Shepherds are widely used as guide animals for the handicapped, for police and military service, and as search and rescue animals. In fact, research has shown that German shepherds can pick up simple tasks quickly after just 5 repetitions and they’re highly obedient.
Like most working dogs, German Shepherds are also very active. They require regular exercise, both mentally and physically, as well as consistent socialization. Originally, German shepherds were bred to be protectant of flocks, and this trait continues on to this day. That’s why German Shepherds make great guard dogs, yet proper socialization is required to prevent territorial and aggressive behaviors from forming.
Most of all, German Shepherds are renowned for their loyalty and devotion. The breed has become known as a one-person or one-family dog, meaning they typically take a particular individual and look to that individual for guidance. This devotion also carries over to its nature as a guard dog; the breed takes pride in protecting its family.
There you have it: The German Shepherd rose from working dog roots to become one of the world’s most beloved breeds. Today, many of those initial traits – its strong stance, intelligence, energy, appearance, and desire to work – continue to make the GSD a popular breed for companionship, as well as work.
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